by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We’re not sure we would be as comfortable as Mike Shanahan seems to be with his job as Redskins coach.

After all, let’s not forget who “The Shan” works for these days.

Following playoff misses in his first two years on the Washington sidelines, The Shan is giving the keys to the 2012 offense to a rookie quarterback. Which on the surface would hardly seem the best way to placate a tempestuous owner such as Dan Snyder. Especially since quarterback shortcomings were a main reason the Skins limped home at 5-11 a year ago.

But maybe Baylor rookie and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is the exception to the rule.

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Las Vegas sports books, however, do not deal in fairy-tale scenarios, which is why the Skins have been saddled with some long prices this season. Washington’s season-win number is currently posted at a modest 6 ½ wins, which would mark a slight improvement from a year ago, but beyond that the Skins’ odds suggest increasing remoteness at being involved in any sort of playoff scenario.

Competing in the rugged neighborhood also known as the NFC East, the Skins rate as the longest shot on the board (14/1) to win the division. Prices on winning the NFC (35/1) and Super Bowl (66/1) are even more prohibitive.

Those are hardly the sorts of odds Snyder was expecting the Skins to be quoted three years into the Shanahan era, which began with much fanfare in D.C. after the 2009 campaign. By this time, so the narrative went in and around the Beltway, the Shanahan magic from his days in Denver should have manifested at FedEx Field.

It’s worth noting, however, that Shanahan’s glory days are looking awfully far back in the rear-view mirror these days. Granted, his 1997 & ‘98 Denver teams were back-to-back Super Bowl winners, but The Shan has recorded all of one postseason win since the Broncos beat the Falcons, 34-19, in Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami more than thirteen years ago.

Might The Shan be past his sell-by date?

Whatever, Shanahan must believe that putting his eggs in RG III’s basket is a worthwhile risk. But this is the same Shan who also thought it was a good idea to go to battle with journeymen Rex Grossman and John Beck as his QBs last fall. Which backfired like so much legislation on nearby Capitol Hill as neither could provide consistent leadership when the Skins ranked near the bottom of NFC stats, placing 14th among 16 conference entries in total offense.

Grossman and Beck were also turnover machines last season, particularly the mistake-prone Grossman, responsible for 20 of the team’s 24 interceptions.

At least RG III probably can’t be any worse.

But the dynamics involved in getting Griffin figure to impact the Skins for the rest of the decade. Moving up four spots to get the Rams’ second overall pick in last April’s draft cost Washington first round picks not only last April but in both 2013 and 2014, plus their second-round pick three months ago.

Griffin might also eventually constitute a one-man draft in 2012 for the Skins, unless SMU G Josh LeRibeus or Texas LB Keenan Robinson make an impact. The Skins drafted another QB in the later rounds as well, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, although he is unlikely to see the field except during preseason in 2012.

Griffin (right) had already been named the starter before a late-May mini-camp in which he more resembled an undrafted rookie than a Heisman winner. Griffin’s attitude, however, seems to have already won over most of his teammates, although the hype and the nickname have already become targets for foes who can’t wait to take their licks at the Heisman winner this fall.

Some NFC observers are already drawing comparisons between RG III and Michael Vick, the king of the pass-run quarterbacks, echoed by Skins ILB London Fletcher, who has spent much time chasing Vick. “The speed (of Griffin) will definitely shock you,” said Fletcher to the Washington Post. “He has a rocket of an arm. He has the right mentality in terms of his preparation.”

Yet even in a best-case scenario, RG III is almost sure to be a work in progress throughout the fall. Though a handful of recent rookie QBs (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton immediately come to mind) have led their teams into the playoffs, all were doing so in mostly safe-mode offensive structures. Even famously-effective rookie QBs such as Dan Marino and Ben Roethlisberger were working with somewhat limited playbooks in their first seasons. Few rookie QBs hit the ground running in the NFL.

The Shan’s version of the West Coast (coordinated by the coach’s son Kyle) also added a couple of new receiving targets in the offseason. Specifically, ex-Colt Pierre Garcon (left), who cost the Skins $42.5 million in a multi-year deal and figures, at least according to Shanahan, as an upgrade from vet returnee Santana Moss or the departed Jabar Gaffney. Ex-49er Joshua Morgan was also brought in as a new target.

Garcon could make a major impact, however, hinting at bigger things to come when torching veteran CB DeAngelo Hall in early camp drills.

Griffin should also have reliable targets at tight end if the Skins can keep Fred Davis (back in the mix after a substance-related four-game league suspension at the end of last season) and Chris Cooley (felled by injuries again last year) on the active list this fall.

Shanahan also has higher hopes for his ground game that suffered a blow last October when versatile Tim Hightower, who had started five of the first six games last season, went down with a torn ACL. Ex-Nebraska slammer Roy Helu (right) and Evan Royster ran with occasional flair in the second half of the season (each recording multiple 100-yard rushing games) and provide serviceable, if not especially flashy, backfield options.

It is also hoped that the forward wall will be more cohesive this fall if LG Kory Lichtensteiger is fully recovered from a torn right ACL suffered last October. Lichtensteiger, however, is being brought around slowly in training camp, and recurring hip issues have put the availability of LG Jamaal Brown into some doubt for the regular-season opener vs. the Saints on September 9.

On the plus side, Washington played playoff-quality “D” for much of last season, even with the stop unit often forced into uncomfortable situations by the mistake-prone tendencies of Grossman and the offense. Coordinator Jim Haslett’s platoon will again align in 3-4 deployments and addressed a possible shortcoming during the free-agency period when inking ex-Bears strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who fills a gap created by LaRon Landry’s free-agent move to the Jets.

Last year was a breakthrough for a couple of key components along the Redskin front seven, especially for ex-Nebraska DT Adam Carriker, who played all 988 snaps in 2011 and recorded 7 ½ sacks and forced four fumbles. As well as OLB Brian Orapko (left), the former Texas star, who blossomed into a legit playmaker when recording a team-high nine sacks in 2011.

That robust front seven returns intact, importantly having retained leading tackler LB Fletcher, who could have moved in free agency during the offseason but instead stayed put in D.C.

If there are some concerns defensively, they’re in the secondary, where the previously-mentioned DeAngelo Hall (right, vs. the Jets last December) and Josh Wilson were somewhat inconsistent on the corners last season. Besides Meriweather, free agents Madieu Williams and Tanard Jackson have also been signed to compete for jobs at the safety positions that were thinned by LaRon Landry’s free-agent departure.

As for the kicking game, The Shan is also hoping that vet PK Neil Rackers, who hit on 32 of 38 FG attempts for the Texans last season, proves an upgrade over Graham Gano, who saw five of his field -goal tries blocked a year ago.

An interesting pointspread highlight from the past two Shanahan seasons has been success vs. Dallas, against whom the Skins have covered all four meetings. Washington also surprisingly swept the Super Bowl champion Giants straight up a year ago.

Totals-wise, the Skins have trended “under” (19-13) during Shanahan’s first two seasons.

Summary...We know the Skins have a playoff-caliber defense. But it is usually not recommended to attempt a breakthrough in a pretty tough neighborhood (the NFC East) with a rookie QB at the helm. Maybe RG III is a special case, and if he can complement his playmaking bent by limiting his mistakes (something Grossman couldn’t do a year ago), and the supporting cast on offense can stay healthy, perhaps the Skins emerge as a threat. But that best-case scenario unravels if the rookie Griffin isn't immediately up to the task.

Even for RG III’s favorite comic book hero Superman, it would be asking a lot.


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